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'Where they can stick their hate'
Ramat Gan, Israel, 10 July 2005 | Religious and cultural solidarity remain organizing principles of the Maccabiah Games, ready for a 17th staging beginning Monday.
When to play, when to stand
East Rutherford, N.J., and Tel Aviv, Israel, 2 June 2005 | The case of the wheel within the wheel as acting
Events in Israel also have demonstrated the potent combination represented by national song and sport. A competitor on a Channel 2 television reality program, Wanted: A Leader, claimed judges denied her the top prize for failing what Ha'aretz calls "the most basic Israeli test"—standing during playing of "Hatikva" before a football match (Alon Hadar, "She Says She Wants a Revolution," 26 May). Abir Kobati of Nazareth, spokeswoman for the Mossawa Center, an Arab advocacy group, said judges focused on the anthem incident rather than her plans for using prize money to advance the cause of Arab businesswomen. One of the judges, according to Kobati, asked "if I stood during the siren on Holocaust Memorial Day and I answered that I slept. Her face was full of hatred. Then she asked me if I stand for the siren on the Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers. I said, 'No,' and she said that we have a problem here."
Update: The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has been entertaining proposals to make words to the national anthem more inclusive of non-Jewish residents (Shahar Ilan, "MKs Hear Proposals on Changing Lyrics to National Anthem," Ha'aretz, 7 July). Especially problematic for Arabs is the lyric "the soul of a Jew yearns," which MK Reshef Chayne suggests changing to "the soul of an Israeli yearns." Other suggestions include adding a supplementary, faith-neutral anthem or tacking a verse in Arabic onto "Hatikva." The head of the Likud faction told the committee that any changes would compromise the state's identity. The current version of the anthem was legalized in November 2004.
Like Ruth, gleaning what they can
Bethlehem, West Bank, Occupied Territories, April 17 | Courage among locals and expertise from abroad have made women's football in Bethlehem come to life. On the initiative of two Bethlehem University students, Honey Thaljieh and Shatha Bannoura, a team formed in 2003. For lack of full-sized pitches they train on concrete. But women's soccer in the area has been boosted by England's Football Association, which has funded developmental teams and training. The side can only wear shorts on the training ground and must negotiate security barriers en route to tournaments. While many men have been supportive, according to the FA's Vicky Wayman, there are cultural impediments. "[I]n the Arab world you don't see too many women above the age of 22 or so playing football," says university athletics director Samar Araj Mousa (see Annette Young, "Bethlehem Bends It Like Beckham," Scotland on Sunday). "Once they finish university and are engaged to be married, there is enormous pressure for them to give up the sport." HEROES
Loved by Jews and Arabs
Sakhnin, Israel, 15 April 2005 | Bnei Sakhnin, winner of last season's Israel State Cup (see 18 May 2004 entry below), now stand 10th in the Israeli Premier League following a 4–0 loss this evening to
Update: Despite going undefeated in its qualifying group, Israel failed to advance to the World Cup finals. In a 4,500-word article in Sports Illustrated ("Stars of David," 29 August), Grant Wahl contrasts the attitudes of the national side's two regular Arab players, Suan and Walid Badir. Badir's grandfather was murdered by Israeli police in the 1956 massacre at Kafr Kassem; Badir, however, prefers not to speak of the symbolic value of Arabs on the Israel team. The article also speculates on the possibility of a protest from Suan and Badir should Israel qualify, à la the black-gloved medal-stand salute from American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympic Games. Tamir Sorek, a Cornell sociology professor, thinks it unlikely: "The Arabs in Israel very rarely use sports as a stage for national protest. For many of the Arab fans there are enough spheres of conflict for Arabs and Jews in Israel, and they want to keep the soccer sphere isolated from these conflicts."MISHAPS
Scribal error embarrasses Israelis
Jerusalem, 10 February 2005 | We have seen this transposition before: the quasi-Freudian typing glitch
At Erev Rosh Hashanah, evening of the Jewish New Year, one can imagine UEFA as a Pharisaic body, having posed the question to Jewish fans of Maccabi Tel Aviv whether one should pray or enjoy the secular delights of the first Champions League match on Israeli soil. As we type, the team from
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" (Mark 2:23–24, NRSV)
Children play ball at the site where Israel started building its separation barrier in the outskirts of the West Bank village of Biddu, north of Jerusalem. (AP, June 2004)
UEFA finds itself in an odd spot, having set the fixture date; yet, in its refusal to change the date, it also poses the Pharisaic question, asked by UEFA spokesman William Gaillard:
In the end, Maccabi Tel Aviv vice-president Eli Driks did not appear overly upset by the outcome, or at least by the implications for religious observance. While pointing out that Israeli teams regularly play on the sabbath, he nevertheless lamented the increased costs for security and stewards that a holiday match would entail. (Yet see reports of the side's supposed reliance on Rabbi Shlomo Ifergan, "the X-ray"; Asher Goldberg, "When in Doubt, Ask Rabbi X-Ray," Ha'aretz, 22 July.)
We cannot accept when everyone starts using national, religious, or political holidays as an argument for rescheduling matches. Every club which takes part in the competition of the Champions League knows the dates one year in advance. So now the people in Israel have to decide between synagogue and football. (Ronen-Abels, "UEFA to Maccabi Tel Aviv: Either Synagogue or Soccer," The Jerusalem Post, 2 September)
"The X-ray may not know much about soccer, but he doesn't have to," says Maccabi Herzliya chairman Ariel Scheiman.
As we consider the meanings of the sometimes inscrutable teacher from Galilee, to continue the thought above—"The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27)—perhaps the holiday's more savory dish involves Galilee's own Bnei Sakhnin (see 18 May gleanings entry below). The Sakhninites tomorrow continue their long-shot UEFA Cup bid with a third-round match against Newcastle United on Tyneside. In doing so, they are proving an object lesson in Arab-Israeli coexistence—the team is a multicultural blend of Jews and Arab citizens of Israel, with several from other nations—while also serving as a reminder of lamentable living conditions in some Arab communities. In order to get to the Sakhnin training ground, writes one correspondent, one moves "along a rutted dirt track, past a fetid sewage lake and an overflowing rubbish dump laden with the carcasses of dogs" (Robert Tait, "From across the Divide, a United Team Offers Hope for the Middle East," The Independent [U.K.]). The sobering assessment of Jafar Farah of the Mossawa Center in Haifa: "The reality is that there is no co-existence in this state."RAMAT GAN AND SAKHNIN, ISRAEL, 18 MAY 2004
Bnei Sakhnin players lift the cup. (AP)
Sakhnin's previous notoriety stemmed from an incident in 1976 in which six Arabs were killed during demonstrations against land confiscations in Galilee. The day, 30 March, is known as Land Day. Indeed, residents speak of a "Sakhnin character." "Sakhninites are considered hard headed and proud," reads a post-match account in Ha'aretz (Yoav Goren, "Like Setting Fire to a Tank with a Lighter," 20 May). "Yesterday [19 May], people recalled the events of Land Day in 1976, when one Abu Farag tried to set fire to an Israeli tank with a lighter. It's a bit difficult to set fire to a tank with a lighter, but then again, who would have imagined that without a home ground and without resources a team that only a few years ago was playing in the third division would be in the Premier League and win the State Cup."
Sakhnin's team is composed of 12 Israeli Arabs, 7 Israeli Jews and 4 foreign players. The feel-good spirit and integrative potential of football even overcame, for an evening, the nearly concurrent bloodshed in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, in which 19 Palestinians were killed (Alan Cowell, "Israeli Arabs Exulting in a Rare Triumph," New York Times, 20 May). "I was feeling ambivalent to go or not to go because of Rafah," Ahmed Tibi, an Arab legislator in Israel's Parliament, told the Times. "Two or three hours before the game, I was still trying to arrange an ambulance to collect the bodies of an 11-year-old and a 15-year-old shot dead. . . . We are trying to live our lives despite the blood. It's trying to be normal when life is not."
Ha'aretz editorialized the weekend following the Cup that Israel should do more to engage its Arab neighbors through sport and in enhancing sport facilities in its Arab sectors (Ron Koffman, "A Stadium Is Not Enough," 23 May). The question, Ha'aretz asks, is if such sporting success points to advances in equality or glosses over the deprivations:
Research by Prof. Amir Ben-Porat of the College of Management, who followed Hapoel Teibeh in the Premiere League in the 1990s, and by Dr. Tamir Sorek, who studied Bnei Sakhnin when it was in the Second Division a few years ago, indicates that for now the Arab public in Israel has clearly decided to participate and succeed. The studies show that the Arabs in Israel have not turned soccer into a locale for political differentiation. Just the opposite—instead of being dragged down by the nationalist provocations of the Jewish audience at some of the playing fields, the Arabs try to use the meeting to create a new discourse of integration. Like the blacks in basketball and athletics in the United States, the possibility for free competition and the chance to win create a feeling of a unified goal. They also nurture the delusion that meritocracy—the principle of success based on qualifications—will work in every sphere and will extricate the whole community from its economic and political inferiority. (Danny Rabinowitz, "Boost for the Arabs," 20 May)
Update: In October 2005, Qatar pledged $6 million to help build a 13,000-seat stadium for Bnei Sakhnin. Israel has also dedicated $3.3 million to the $12 million to $13 million total. The funding is the first by an Arab state for a town inside Israel. Gulf states have donated to Palestinian areas, but it took the persuasion of Israeli-Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi to secure the Qatari donation for Sakhnin. "[W]e are Palestinians originally and . . . Sakhnin is very important," said Tibi. "This part of the Palestinian people has been neglected for more than 50 years by the Arab world."
The sharp-eyed observer would have noted that the national team did not pass the ball like that before Grant's African trip. Since that fateful visit, Grant's players have become mercurial in mind and body. A quick glance at the notes that Grant took while in Tunisia would show that the national team played with a rare blend of Moroccan virtuosity, Tunisian pressure, Algerian defending and Libyan mentality. (Avi Ratzon, "The Last Word: Out of Africa," 19 February)
The place for them is not here. They should go play in Jordan, not here, if they want a country. And they should make them a league there. They're not Israelis, they're Arabs. We're Jews. It's not possible to be together.
Yet an "undercover" observer reports on Beitar supporters' racist chants. And a nonprofit group,the New Israel Fund, monitors racist fan behavior for publication in Israeli newspapers (see Yair Ettinger, "Maybe the Revolution Will Start in the Sports Stadium," Ha'aretz, 5 May 2003). Rifat Turk, an Arab Israeli who played for Israel for 10 years, says the football field offers hope: "I'm a million percent sure that through sports you can make life better. Put money into sports, and sports will do the work itself."